When the US media covers the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan — if covering them at all — tends to focus on one of two things: Al-Qaeda equals terrorist or Blackwater equals bad.
To get the second point out of the way quickly, lets just say that Jeremy Scahill and Spencer Ackerman do a fantastic job of outing the (very deadly) shenanigans of the multi-billion dollar mercenary company. It seems to have been proven to nearly everyone, except the administration that keeps giving the company contracts, that Blackwater (Xe) is up to no good.
But lets move onto this whole Al-Qaeda=terrorist thing. I tried a little experiment at the local coffee shop, asking a few of the other patrons who Al-Qaeda was. The response was unanimous. I’m an idiot for asking this question. So I tried a second one, asking people if they knew what ethnic groups made up Al-Qaeda or where the group was located. Maybe these are dumb questions but I was trying to prove to myself a point. People have no idea who or what Al-Qaeda is. The people I talked to know that Al-Qaeda are Muslims that use the Internet to plan terrorist attacks. When asked why they plan these attacks against the West people seem kind of embarrassed to admit that they really don’t know. Which I can only guess is where the whole “Why do they hate us?” question comes into play amongst so many Americans.
Now, I admit, these questions were trick questions. The who, what, when, where and why of Al-Qaeda isn’t something that can be easily summed up in a casual conversation while The Cure blares in the background. It’s complex, which is why the US government is spending billions of dollars to try to stop Al-Qaeda and associates. It’s why the Dutch government fell last week.
And I’ve heard more than one liberal speculate it’s the real reason Republican leaders are so focused on health care. Take people’s attention away from the money that’s being spent on wars and get people riled up about something that would cost a fraction of what this military operation costs and no one will have the energy to question whether war is the right thing to do.
Thursday morning, while much of the journalistic and politically minded American world tuned into Obama’s Health Care Summit, the New America Foundation and Foreign Policy magazine put on a summit of their own. The organizations invited scholars and experts on Al-Qaeda to discuss the organization at the conference Al-Qaeda Central: Capabilities, Allies, and Messages. The webcast may have the air of C-Span ready excitement but the speakers were engaging and informative. They discussed the controversial drone attacks, the make-up of the organization and the US’ current operations in South Asia.
Embedded below are video files of the conference, which are a must watch for anyone interested in learning more about the organization Americans seem to know so little about.
For some great updates on the situation in Afghanistan/Pakistan add these sources to your RSS feed, right next to your US and British news sources:
Also, check out The New Yorker‘s Steve Coll answering questions about the Taliban.